This spring at Ohio State it is impossible to talk to the cornerbacks or coaches without hearing about the rosy NFL draft projections for Eli Apple.
Optimism is high as Apple could be Ohio State’s second cornerback drafted in the first round in the past three years.
If that happens, the Buckeyes will be one step closer to returning to a not-so-distant period of time when Columbus could claim being the home of “CB U”.
From 1994 to 2005 (seasons, not drafts), 11 of 13 full-season starters were drafted and only one failed to play in at least one NFL game. (This includes Cie Grant, who was a starting cornerback in 2001 before moving to linebacker and being drafted at that position by the Saints.)
Five of those 11 draftees were first-round picks beginning with Shawn Springs in the 1997 draft.
He was followed two years later by Antoine Winfield, who began a three-year run that also included Ahmed Plummer and Nate Clements from 1999-2001. Chris Gamble finished it out when he was the 28th overall pick in 2004.
In the next five seasons, three of six OSU starting corners were drafted, and the only first-rounder was Malcolm Jenkins, who ended up at safety in the NFL.
To review, yes, there was an 12-year period when being a starting cornerback at Ohio State meant you were nearly guaranteed to play in the NFL and you had more than a 40-percent chance of being a first round pick.
But in the second half of the Jim Tressel era, this tradition waned.
Whether it was because of recruiting, training or scheme (or the scheme was a result of recruiting or training), the pipeline of NFL corners from Ohio State largely dried up after the Panthers tapped Gamble.
By the time Urban Meyer was two years into his tenure as head coach of the Buckeyes, the pass defense had devolved into one of the worst in the school history even though he inherited a first-round corner from Tressel in Bradley Roby.
But things could be looking up.
Chris Ash was hired in 2014 to revamp the back end of the defense. For all the credit he has gotten for improving the Ohio State scheme and players’ fundamentals, he also benefitted from arriving in Columbus two years after Meyer had started stockpiling talent all over the roster.
The combination of new voice, new techniques and new blood paid off the past two seasons as Doran Grant (also a Tressel recruit) developed into a third-round pick, Apple became a star and Gareon Conley had a solid first season as a starter in place of Grant last year.
Will someone else step up to fill Apple’s shoes and lock down the side of the field opposite Conley this fall? It’s too soon to tell, but stringing together star starter after star starter is far from unprecedented for the Scarlet and Gray.